Oxford Canal Basin

A quick guide to the plans for the old terminal of the Oxford Canal and a pointer to some 1955 photographs.

Beyond expressing support for the idea, I have kept out of the debate on the hopes to reinstate the former canal basin lying between Hythe Bridge Street and Nuffield College at the Oxford end of the Oxford Canal. FOXCAN, the group leading the campaign, have put Mr Hugh Jaeger in charge of their PR, and there is a tone of political and commercial sensitiveness about it all which is rare in local pressure groups, as well as plenty of existing information about it.

The idea impinges on a host of other things – the over-blown”West End” plans, the ongoing farce which passes for a County transport strategy, and Nuffield’s legitimate commercial interests to name but a few. More of that anon. I will content myself with drawing attention to existing material on the project itself.

FOXCAN’s web site is at www.foxcan.co.uk. The most interesting parts are a 1951 plan of the Oxford Canal Terminal before demolition and FOXCAN’s Vision of Reinstated Oxford Canal Terminal. Jaeger’s comments of 27 May 2007 on Granny Buttons’ site are also worth reading.

In another Granny Buttons post, Andrew Denny observes that he had “imagined a bit less Oxford and a bit more basin”. This received further comment from Hugh Jaeger on 1 June 2007 about, inter alia, the difficulty of turning a 70 foot narrow boat in the constricted “Y” shape of the original terminal, and the heritage (and commercial) benefits of restoring the terminal as it was, rather than as an “easy-to-use, easy-to-wind, heritage-free terminal”.

Unless I have missed an update, there remains some uncertainty as to what lies beneath the car-park. You can get some idea of what it looked like from photographs in the Thomas Photos Collection held by Oxfordshire County Council. Taken apparently in January 1955 (that is, four years after the 1951 plan), they show works then in hand to do something to the site – but what? Were they simply knocking down the buildings and filling the by then empty basin with the rubble, or something more drastic? FOXCAN hopes to find out from an archaeological survey which is about to start.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Heritage section is one of the few bits of the County which actually works. Unfortunately, their web site seems to have been designed by their less able colleagues in County Highways and has many characteristics in common with the County’s highways “strategy”. In particular, you cannot get from A to B without passing through Z, and there are dead ends, one-way streets, and signs everywhere.

Pause for too long and your session times out – the equivalent of a traffic warden appearing. Your browser’s back and forward buttons will not work properly and they use cookies to throw you back to where you were last instead of where you want to go – all very New Labour, this idea that they know better than you do what you want, and, like New Labour, extremely irritating. The only safe method is to search for the collection reference numbers.

Look first at the plans referred to above, then go to www.oxfordshire.gov.uk, navigate to the Heritage search, enter the numbers below and pick Oxfordshire Photographic Archive. Put the numbers below into the search box.

D217902a

This is a view from west to east across the basin directly up the left (northern) arm of the “Y” and into the tunnel under the warehouse (backing on to where the Opium Den was). The basin is empty of water and appears to have mud or sand in it – at a higher level, I would guess than the original floor, suggesting that some infilling has already taken place. The brickwork of the basin edge is intact at the viewer’s end, but it is not clear what the crane-cum-digger is doing at the far end. Is it pushing material into the basin, pulling it out, or demolishing the brickwork? One hopes the former.

It may be a trick of perspective, but the alignment of the left and right sides of the “Y” arm does not appear to me to match the 1951 plan nor FOXCAN’s “Vision”. The right hand side seems more set back than the left – the plans show the opposite. If what appears from this picture is correct, then there may be more room to manoeuvre a 70 foot boat than has been thought (but see below).

D217903a

This shows the reverse view – from under the warehouse tunnel towards Hythe Bridge Street. The entrance under the road has apparently already been filled (see also D217904a). We cannot see the digger nor the pile in front of it which appears from the first picture. The brickwork seems to be intact.

D217904a

This shows the partially-filled arch under Hythe Bridge Street. The top of the arch is obstructed on the far side (probably by the 18″ water main which adds to the modern restoration difficulties, but I am not sure when that was laid).

D217901a

The photographer has his back to the Hythe Bridge Street wall. The northern arm of the “Y” is to the left, with the digger just visible. There is a pile of rubble in the foreground and the right arm of the “Y” extends straight ahead under the building which backed onto Worcester Street (that is, is opposite where the gates of Nuffield College are now). It is less clear from this picture that the crux of the “Y” is set back as D217902a appeared to show.

Go and see the photographs while you can – the library is about to be closed for the benefit of the Westgate developers, and the more that county councillor Don Seale protests, without particularisation, that the heritage facilities will be protected, the more one fears the opposite.

More on this in due course.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Oxford, Oxford Canal, Oxford Canal Basin. Bookmark the permalink.

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